Burma-Shave signs shake hands with the Sea

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 28, 2004

Last week's column left the door open for more Burma-Shave moments, and several of you walked right in. After I saw how creative you are in this exciting genre of close-shave wisdom, I thought about summer trips to the Sea, and decided to add a verse of my own.

But first, here are just a few contributions from our readers:

Cochrane's Windy Erhardt, who's quite certain now that I am indeed old enough to remember those crops of often-humorous advertising slogans that sprang up like fireweed along American highways from the 1920s to the 1960s, pressed a sheet of paper into my hand at coffee the other morning.

A tourist had just come through town, Windy explained, and was reading the Burma-Shave column. Wes Morden, of Clearwater, B.C., got to reminiscing with Windy about the signs and wrote down one of his favourite to share as inspiration for safe holiday driving:

Spring has sprung
And the grass has riz
Where last year's
Careless drivers is!

Two of our coffee companions, separated by over 1,500 km, sent in identical slogans. Ken Fast of Derwent, Alberta, and Doug Chaffee of Langley, B.C., must have endured some hair-raising driving as kids to have this one stick in their memories:

Angels who guard you
When you drive
Usually retire
At sixty-five

My sister-in-law Rhoda Rhoads, of Edmonton, was clearly living in the 21st century – and perhaps was even feeling somewhat sympathetic toward the hair on my chinny chin chin – when she created these lines:

No Burma-Shave signs
For many a mile
A day-old beard
Is right in style

Not all of our readers had the good fortune of enjoying Burma-Shave signs first-hand, however. Allison Kydd, also of Edmonton, wrote:

"I may be of that generation, but I didn't travel on American highways until the 1980s, and then we watched for the missile silos. When I was a kid in Saskatchewan, I remember many trips to Manitoba and counting the oil wells by Virden. Reminded me a lot of the grasshoppers I collected during one particularly hot summer."

Cochrane coffee companion Lindsie Haxton never saw those Burma-Shave signs as a kid, either, but she had her own ways of beating highway tedium:

"When I was a child on a road trip," she wrote, "one way we passed the time was to look for white horses grazing outside. Whenever we spotted one, we would call out, 'Zip!'"

Well, now it's my turn to add to the Burma-Shave tradition – a journey tradition in more than one way – although the only possible link between my verse and beards is the stereotypical image of bearded old salts of the Sea.

As my longtime coffee companions no doubt recall, I have this thing about "shaking hands" with the Sea, a simple ritual of connectedness. To be more precise, I have this need to make annual pilgrimage to the seashore where, with the surf lapping at my feet, I fill my cupped hands with water that has been everywhere and everywhen.

Its molecules – there are more molecules in that handful of water than there are stars in all the known universe – have traveled the world many times over, have recycled through all of history, journeyed to places I could only dream of, been intimately part of the pleasures and pains of all of life.

They've liberated themselves from Antarctica's icy grip and Everest's howling heights. They've kissed every continent, every lover's lips, every child's bruised knee, every parent's tear-streaked cheeks.

And some have painted rainbows.

The Sea caresses my soul with its stories and reminds me that I, too, will become part of its legend some day.

So, here's my verse, but not as a Burma-Shave escape from the boredom of the road. These lines are in honour of nobler journeys, for . . .

And everywhen
The Sea
Has seen it all
You see

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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